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Call to declare 'healthcare emergency' after sharp rise in Northern Ireland hospital appointment waiting times


The number of people waiting longer than a year for surgery has risen from 22,638 to 25,279 (stock photo)
The number of people waiting longer than a year for surgery has risen from 22,638 to 25,279 (stock photo)

By Lisa Smyth

The number of people waiting longer than a year for a first hospital appointment has risen by more than 3,000 in just three months, it can be revealed.

Official figures have highlighted once again the misery being endured by patients across Northern Ireland.

According to Health and Social Care Board statistics, the number of people waiting longer than a year for a first outpatient appointment has increased from 105,450 to 108,582 between June and September this year.

At the same time, the number of people waiting longer than a year for surgery has risen from 22,638 to 25,279.

It comes as the Department of Health released their quarterly waiting list statistics that show more than 300,000 people here are waiting to see a consultant.

The figures is an all-time high for Northern Ireland and for across the UK.

Ulster Unionist Party leader Steve Aiken said it is time to declare a "healthcare emergency" in Northern Ireland.

"It is totally unacceptable that one in 16 people here have been waiting on a list for more than 12 months, compared to one in 48,500 in England," he said.

“It is medically accepted that the longer patients are forced to wait for treatment, the greater the harm they may come to. There is no doubt that the health of local patients is being harmed by these spiralling delays.

“We have, by far, the worst waiting lists in any of the four parts of the United Kingdom. Our waiting times would simply not be tolerated anywhere else."

A Department of Health spokesperson said "sustained investment" and a "radical reshaping" of health services is needed to deal with the waiting time problems.

"The number of appointments and treatments being provided has increased over recent years. However, this increase hasn’t been sufficient to keep pace with the growth in demand," they said.

"For a number of years, significant additional investment was made available to help bridge this gap between demand and capacity. This included funding for extra in-house clinics as well as paying for treatments for patients in private clinics.

"These extra monies have been in much shorter supply from 2014, due to financial pressures facing the Health and Social Care system and wider public sector. Waiting lists have climbed steadily since then."

Dr Anne Carson, deputy chair of BMA’s Northern Ireland Council, said: “This rise is absolutely no surprise to us and is beyond frustrating for health service staff and patients alike.

“It’s no secret that our waiting lists are the worst in the UK and growing, yet our politicians continue to do nothing to resolve this. We are now approaching another busy winter period and morale among doctors is at an all-time low. No doctor wants to work in a system, hospital or speciality that is under so much pressure, where the issues seem overwhelming; it’s not fair on doctors, health service staff and it’s certainly not fair on the patients,” she said.

Dr Carson also called for politicians to act to save the country’s health and social care service “before it’s too late”.

“The decisions needed to take forward the transformation outlined in the Bengoa review can only happen with a functioning assembly in place,” she said.

“It’s time they acted now before we are past the point of no return.”

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